Monday, April 28, 2014

The Gift of Resurrection: The Power of Reconciliation

The Gift of Resurrection: The Power of Reconciliation
Easter 2, Gospel of John 20:19-23

The Risen Christ be with you.
And also with you.

Everlasting God, who in the Easter mystery established the new promise of reconciliation: Grant that all who desire to walk in the way of our Risen Christ may demonstrate in their lives, the love and compassion that Jesus revealed to us in both his dying and conquering of darkness. May we also conquer darkness, with the power of Divine light, becoming for many the light of resurrection through Jesus Christ, our true Passover, who lives with you and the Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Our collect today, that weekly changing prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, reminded us of the Easter mystery we are currently celebrating. This radical concept of resurrection and the belief that tells us darkness has been destroyed by radiant light. This belief, this Easter season, grants to us the promise of fruitful world changing reconciliation power. This isn't a far removed wishful idea of reconciliation that is a "pie in the sky" promise, but a spirit of reconciliation which actually affects the world around us, affects our homes and neighborhoods and relationships. Reconciliation is a big word in the fields of religion and theology. It often points towards the possibilities of afterlife, judgment and the eternal salvation of every woman, man and child that ever graced this planet with their presence. However, its also a concept that, I believe, is more importantly applicable to our every day interactions in this lifetime with ourselves, others and, yes, even God. 

Reconciliation itself is described in the dictionary as having a two-fold meaning, which I believe is relative to our journey as a people of faith and doubt. The first is: the restoration of friendly relations. The second is: the action of making one view or belief compatible with another. Reconciliation carries with it ideas of healing, reconstruction, awakening, resolution and compatibility. Reconciliation requires us, as a people of faith, to seek the establishment of friendly relationships and to seek compatibility in the midst of great diversity.

Not accidentally, these are all key concepts and ideas that Jesus taught and illustrated over and over during his brief three years of recorded ministry and, at least, once in childhood. We first witness the child Jesus attempting to bring reconciliation to the leaders in the temple, when he is only twelve years old. Although the Scriptures tell us little of this event, I like to believe he was vying to bring clarity and compatibility within the Jewish faith, to set the stage for his radical message of forgiveness and unceasing love. Reconciliation was often found weaving through out his famous parables, which almost always ended with some form of forgiveness, healing and restoration taking place among the actors portrayed. Reconciliation even accompanied Jesus as he was suspended on a tree between two thieves, and one Gospel writer paints a vivid story of a thief seeking forgiveness in his last hours of life and a tortured Jesus granting it without a second thought.

Of course, we find reconciliation, the gift of ultimate restoration, in the Easter story. We behold an empty tomb and we declare with one another, "Christ is Risen!" This ancient phrase has different interpretations and meanings for many of us, and rightly should. The early church was a plethora of various Christologies and views of the man named Jesus of Nazareth. If we desire to truly live out the calling or "the way" of the earliest believers we must leave room in our communities and at our communion table for various beliefs. We must value a spirit of diversity as we approach the ultimate truth: God is love and, for us, that love was revealed in a Nazarene carpenter who met death on a cross and yet lives forevermore.

Yes, Jesus was all about reconciliation. It's why he took up his ministry, entered the wasters of the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John, and ultimately traveled to Golgotha in the ultimate act of humility. He demonstrated to us again and again how to walk in the spirit of restoration with one another and also with God, whom he referred to as the Father. Jesus said, "Look around you the Kingdom of God is here!" He called his followers to move from a place of selfishness and denial to a place of acceptance and compatibility with each other and the earth beneath them. Jesus never asked us to escape this earth but rather to be reconciled to God by our acceptance of the Kingdom of God, which is fully present right now in our midst. True reconciliation doesn't happen in the afterlife or at some mythical dread judgment but it happens right now! With each and every breath we are called to become compatible with those around us, to restore love and to create friendships, seeking peace on earth for all people-kind.

Our Gospel reading from John paints a beautiful picture of a post resurrection meeting with Jesus. Historians and biblical scholars agree that the Gospel of John is a beautiful re-telling of the Jesus story with little, to no, basis in factual events. It’s doubted that a single word spoken by Jesus, in this Gospel, is historical. The Gospel is a reflection composed by a blossoming church, which had begun to shape doctrines on Jesus, and they wanted a Jesus to reflect those doctrines. However, I still find contained within it some of the most beautiful truths concerning Jesus and his early followers, as they struggled to make sense of him and his teaching.  Today Jesus appears, having risen from the place of darkness, and offers peace to his disciples. The writer stages this scene likely in the context of a liturgy where bread had just been broken, remembering the Last Supper. And as we do at each liturgy, Jesus says, "Peace be with you."

Peace is such an overused, rarely understood, let alone properly enacted word. We throw it around forgetting that each time we proclaim it we are demanding of ourselves and others the calling to find true compatibility, reconciliation and to restore good relations across our differing views, personalities, lifestyles and beliefs. Jesus, however, demands it of us if we are to call ourselves his followers. Peace requires action; it is a holy calling to move from places of discord into places of harmony. All the great prophets, teachers and messiahs of our human history have asked the same of create peace, to love and to reconcile.

Jesus goes on in the Gospel story to make an outward act of breathing on his disciples. This is a symbol, a tangible means, of bestowing an intangible blessing or gift. While doing so, he says to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins to any, they are retained."

In this story we are reminded that each one of us has the power within to cause and create reconciliation. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love, gives us this power. We each have the ability to forgive, to seek compatibility and to foster friendly relations or we can refuse to offer reconciliation. We can loose or we can bind. We can set free or we can hold captive. Of course, church history has done all things imaginable with this passage. It has been used to force unhealthy means of extreme confession upon adherents. It ha been used to elevate clergy to places of divinity, allowing them to abuse their parishioners and claim to withhold God's love and forgiveness. This of absurd, of course, no one can control the love of God which is constantly being given to every creature upon this earth regardless of creed, belief or confessional style. We are told God’s mercies are new each morning and no priest, no minister and no Christian can determine the extent to which God’s mercies are offered. Private confession can be a beautiful tool of spiritual growth and self-forgivness but far too often it has been known to grow and twist into something ugly and dangerous. 

Forgiveness from God is eternal and always present regardless of how you personally embrace it. However, we can each control how we allow ourselves to interact with others. We can place ourselves on pedestals of superiority and retain the sins of others, finding in them weaknesses and faults, "doctrinal errors" and differing beliefs; and therefore finding them unworthy of reconciliation to ourselves and even our church communities. Or we can be as Jesus and say, "peace," to all we meet and forgive up to the very last moment of our earthly lives.

Our collect ended with the words, "May we also conquer darkness, with the power of Divine light, becoming for many the light of resurrection through Jesus Christ..." Yes, Christ is Risen and Christ lives forevermore in our power of reconciliation. This is the gift of resurrection that we have each been given the opportunity to realize that within ourselves we have the ability to give light or darkness, to reconcile and find compatibility or to dwell only on our difference and refuse admittance to others. You have the power to forgive or the power to retain. The power to restore or the power to destroy. 

As a people of Easter our calling is to walk in the way of the Risen Jesus and demonstrate in our lives the same reconciling way of life he lived 2,000 years ago. Does he continue to live and triumph through you and I? Is the grave empty? Or have we denied the gift of resurrection, the power of reconciliation, by leaving our ability to love and forgive laying dormant, unused and decaying, in the tombs of our heart? Is the Easter proclamation, "Alleluia! Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen! Alleluia!" a deceleration of truth based on our words and actions, which have the power to make the eternal Christ alive in the hearts of others, or are they vain words spoken in repetition?

To love is to live! To live is to proclaim God's goodness! To err is human, to forgive divine! Be divine today! Be the Risen Christ to the world around you this Easter season!  

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